Getting high: A beginner’s guide to acrophilia

In his comprehensive list of sexual paraphilias in the 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, Dr.Anil Aggrawal (Maulana Azad Medical College, New Delhi, India) defined acrophilia as sexual pleasure and arousal from heights, high altitudes or being in high places. Dr. Brenda Love has briefly overviewed acrophilia in both her Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices and a 2005 book chapter on “Cat-fighting, eye-licking, head-sitting and statue-screwing” (in Russ Kick’s book Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong). She begins her overviews by claiming:

“Skydiving and bungee-cord-jumping are high-altitude activities that elevate one’s adrenalin. This excitement can then be transferred to passion and sex. Both of these activities include a form of bondage, vertigo, and suspension”

My own research on bungee jumping published in a 2004 issue of the Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, certainly suggests that the activity is a ‘risky but rewarding’ behaviour that some people view as potentially addictive. However, in our interviews with bungee jumpers we didn’t find any crossover to their sex lives (although we I ought to mention we didn’t specifically ask).

Brenda Love says that another acrophile behaviour is having sex at a high altitude (the most obvious example being where people have sex on aeroplanes an become a member of the ‘Mile High Club’). Although some people are likely to want to engage in such an activity just to say they have done it, for some people it may be genuinely sexually arousing. Rob Woodburn writing on “sex at altitude” in the Sydney Morning Herald wrote that:

“Sigmund Freud said that images of flying often symbolize sex in our dreams. Does this mean that actually having sex when wide awake and while in the air subconsciously completes some sort of mental circuit? [Sex educator] Dr. Susan Block says that, physiologically speaking, being in an aircraft during flight is like being in a giant vibrator. So passengers, especially men, are easily aroused. This dovetails neatly with comedian Billy Crystal’s observation that “women need a reason to have sex, men just need a place”. 

Others may be sexually excited at the thought of being caught having sex on a plane, while others may have sexual fantasies about the people who work on planes (i.e. the pilots and flight attendants). Keith Lovegrove in his book Airline: Identity, Design and Culture notes that some people actually develop a fetish for the planes themselves. Such people are into ‘objectum sexuality’ (where people develop romantic and/or sexual feelings of inanimate objects or structures, and which I discussed in a previous blog). For what appears the vast majority, the appeal of joining the mile high club appears to be the thrill of engaging in an activity that is taboo. Brenda Love then provides the following story from some personal communication she received in 1980:

“There was a group of pilots in New York that had its own version of a Mile High Club. The requirements were that the pilot and passenger go up in an open-cockpit bi-plane, and when they reached an altitude of 6,500 feet, the passenger would disrobe, climb out onto the wing and into the back seat, returning to the front seat after having sex with the pilot. All without falling off!”

Brenda Love also claims that for some people aerobatics can be sexually arousing. Based on more “personal communication” she had received, she wrote that:

“Stunts in a small plane offer 4-5 negative G-forces and 3-4 positive G’s. These affect the body by pushing the blood into either the head or the lower body, resulting in feelings of lightheadedness, floating, or sinking, depending on the maneuver. There is a tremendous adrenalin rush and a simultaneous sense of power over the airplane and submission to it. The feeling of being bound is greater in stunt flying than with other sports because the belts have to hold both body weight and the chute through every maneuver. There are very few sensations that compare with hanging upside down while one’s weight pulls one toward the glass bubble that separates the pilot from the rapidly approaching ground. This feat provides enough sexual stimulation to cause at least one female pilot to experience spontaneous orgasm”.

Brenda Love (citing a lecture by J.C Collins on ‘Terror’) claims that some sexual sadists who know their masochistic sexual partners suffer from acrophobia, are sometimes forced to wear blindfolds and then made to climb a ladder. She then claimed that if this is done often enough, the phobia eventually dissipates and then being at height becomes sexually arousing. Finally, Love also briefly talks about alien abductions and implicitly argues these are examples of acrophilic activity. There are clearly some people who claim to have had sex in spaceships (check out my previous blog on exophilia that examined the fetish for having sex with aliens). In a 2001 book Extra-terrestrial Sex Fetish by “Supervert”, he argues that:

“Exophilia should be understood as an abnormal desire for that which is outside earth…It is characterized by arousal in the presence of aliens or, less directly, representations of aliens…The exophile is rarely apprehended in the very act of satisfying his fetish. Evidently the reason for this is not the scarcity of exophiles but the lack of extraterrestrials themselves”

However, even if you are someone who actually believes that instances of inter-galactic sex has taken place and/or that there are genuine alien sex fetishes, the source of the sexual arousal is unlikely to be the altitude at which sex took place. Therefore, even at a theoretical level, such activity could not be classed as truly acrophilic.

Dr Mark Griffiths, Professor of Gambling Studies, International Gaming Research Unit, Nottingham Trent University, Nottingham, UK

Further reading

Aggrawal A. (2009). Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices. Boca Raton: CRC Press.

Larkin, M. & Griffiths, M.D. (2004). Dangerous sports and recreational drug-use: Rationalising and contextualising risk. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 14, 215-232.

Love, B. (2001). Encyclopedia of Unusual Sex Practices. London: Greenwich Editions.

Love, B. (2005). Cat-fighting, eye-licking, head-sitting and statue-screwing. In R. Kick (Ed.), Everything You Know About Sex is Wrong (pp.122-129).  New York: The Disinformation Company.

Lovegrove, K. (2000). Airline: Identity, Design and Culture. New York: Te Neues Publishing Company

Supervert (2001). Extra-terrestrial Sex Fetish (self-published book). Available at:

Woodburn, R. (2006). Sex at high altitude. Sydney Morning Herald, May 24. Located at:

About drmarkgriffiths

Professor MARK GRIFFITHS, BSc, PhD, CPsychol, PGDipHE, FBPsS, FRSA, AcSS. Dr. Mark Griffiths is a Chartered Psychologist and Distinguished Professor of Behavioural Addiction at the Nottingham Trent University, and Director of the International Gaming Research Unit. He is internationally known for his work into gambling and gaming addictions and has won many awards including the American 1994 John Rosecrance Research Prize for “outstanding scholarly contributions to the field of gambling research”, the 1998 European CELEJ Prize for best paper on gambling, the 2003 Canadian International Excellence Award for “outstanding contributions to the prevention of problem gambling and the practice of responsible gambling” and a North American 2006 Lifetime Achievement Award For Contributions To The Field Of Youth Gambling “in recognition of his dedication, leadership, and pioneering contributions to the field of youth gambling”. In 2013, he was given the Lifetime Research Award from the US National Council on Problem Gambling. He has published over 800 research papers, five books, over 150 book chapters, and over 1500 other articles. He has served on numerous national and international committees (e.g. BPS Council, BPS Social Psychology Section, Society for the Study of Gambling, Gamblers Anonymous General Services Board, National Council on Gambling etc.) and is a former National Chair of Gamcare. He also does a lot of freelance journalism and has appeared on over 3500 radio and television programmes since 1988. In 2004 he was awarded the Joseph Lister Prize for Social Sciences by the British Association for the Advancement of Science for being one of the UK’s “outstanding scientific communicators”. His awards also include the 2006 Excellence in the Teaching of Psychology Award by the British Psychological Society and the British Psychological Society Fellowship Award for “exceptional contributions to psychology”.

Posted on July 23, 2012, in Compulsion, Mania, Obsession, Paraphilia, Psychology, Sex, Sex addiction and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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